Whether you treat your battlefields getaway
as a self-drive exploration (armed with maps and brochures available
from the tourism association and information offices in the region),
or use the services of a specialist guide, your stay on the Battlefields
Route will bring an exciting new dimension to your African experience:
Early Zulu Battles & historical
of Langalibalele 1873
Zulu War 1879
War of Independance 1880-1881
Africa/ Anglo-Boer War 1889-1902
EARLY ZULU CONFLICTS
Early in the 19th century King Shaka transformed
a tiny tribe into a proud and powerful nation. This nation building
involved a continuing series of skirmishes and battles, but by
the mid-1820s the Zulus had emerged as the most powerful and influential
nation in southern Africa.
The legend of Shaka still inspires pride among
the Zulu people. During a twelve-year reign he built up and led
a powerful army, while setting new standards and cultural traditions
for his people. Historians acknowledge his military leadership
and his prowess at developing new weapons (significantly the short
stabbing spear) and battlefield strategy (particularly izimpondo
zenkomo, the horns-of-the-bull encircling tactic). Despite understandably
subjective Victorian criticism, contemporary accounts from shipwrecked
sailors in the 18th century describe the Zulus with whom they
came into contact as cheerful, prosperous and law-abiding people.
The introduction of British rule in the Cape
Colony in 1806 led to dissatisfaction among the fiercely independent
Afrikaners, resulting in an exodus of Voortrekkers to the hinterland,
where they aspired to govern themselves and maintain their cultural
identity and language.
After crossing the Drakensberg mountains and
entering Natal, the trekkers came into conflict with some of the
resident Zulu tribes, and disputes arose over land ownership.
A group of trekkers under the leadership of Piet Retief arrived
in Natal in 1838, and during negotiations with Zulu king Dingane
in the royal capital at Mgungundlovu, the Voortrekker leader and
101 of his men were killed. This led to open hostilities
with other groups of Voortrekkers being attacked and killed, and
a commando dispatched from Port Natal was ambushed at Italeni.
The Voortrekkers mobilised to avenge the attacks
making a vow that if God should grant them victory over the Zulus,
they would build a church in thanksgiving and commemorate the
event annually. On 16 December 1838, on the banks of the Ncome
River (meaning praiseworthy) 460 Voortrekkers defeated a strong
Zulu army at the Battle of Blood River/ Ncome.
THE REBELLION OF LANGALIBALELE 1873
Langalibalele (his name means the sun is boiling
hot) was chief of the amaHlubi, numbering some 9 400, who settled
peacefully in the upper reaches of the Bushmans River, in the
Drakensberg mountains near Giants Castle. Many of the men
of the tribe worked in Griqualand West, and were given firearms
in lieu of cash payment. The colonial government required these
firearms to be registered; the amaHlubi refused, and were declared
to be in open rebellion.
Colonial forces were mobilized to prevent Langalibalele
and his people fleeing over the Bushmans Pass into Lesotho.
Difficulties in navigating the mountain terrain and the ill-defined
passes led to the military under Major Anthony Durnford arriving
at the head of Bushmans Pass after many of the amaHlubi
and their cattle had already reached the top. General confusion
and unease within the pursuers led to indiscriminate shooting
by both sides, and the having lost five men in the engagement,
the government forces retreated. After subsequent pursuits by
a considerable force of colonial and regular troops, Langalibalele
surrended on 11 December 1873. He was sentenced to life imprisonment
on Robben Island, but British Government intervention saw him
released in 1875.
ANGLO-ZULU WAR 1879
The continuing strengthening of the independent
Zulu nation by King Cetshwayo was perceived as a growing threat
to the colonists of Natal, and in December 1878 the British government
issued an ultimatum that was impossible for the Zulus to meet.
When the demands of the ultimatum were not met,
three British columns under the command of Lieutenant-General
Lord Chelmsford (who despite considerable experience in the field
nonetheless made the fatal mistake of underestimating the fighting
ability of the Zulus), crossed the Thukela and Buffalo Rivers
and invaded Zululand.
At the battle of Isandlwana, on 22 January 1879,
some 20 000 Zulus overran the 1700 strong invading force, killing
more than 1300 officers and men. Survivors of the rout (including
Victoria Cross recipients Lieutenants Melvill and Coghill, who
valiantly attempted to save the Queens Colour) were forced
to flee across the Buffalo River, at a place now known as Fugitives
Drift. On the same day a Zulu force attacked Rorkes Drift,
a Swedish mission station used by the British army as a commissariat
and hospital. Here the heroic hundred repelled a force
of 4 000 Zulu warriors led by King Cetshwayos brother Dabulamazi
for twelve hours. The British lost 17 men and won 11 Victoria
Crosses, the most ever awarded to a regiment in a seperate military
engagement. The war ended with the defeat of King Cetshwayo at
the Battle of Ulundi in 4 July 1879.
During the Anglo-Zulu War the last hopes of
a Napoleonic dynasty died when Prince Louis Napoleon, son of Napoleon
II who was serving as an observer with the British forces, was
while on patrol.
TRANSVAAL WAR OF INDEPENDENCE 1880-1881
To the Boers watching from the heights it must
have been an astonishing sight. Five companies of redcoats advancing
parallel to one another, each in its column of fours, their white
helmets and scarlet coats brilliant against the green of the plateau,
and in their midst, as had always been the custom of British infantry
going into action, the Colours unfurled two large heavy
standards nearly six feet square. (The Anglo-Boer Wars
When the peaceful attempts of the Zuid-Afrikaansche
Republiek (Transvaal) failed to negotiate independence from the
British through diplomacy, war was declared. British forces were
marched from Durban to Newcastle, close to the Transvaal border,
where they clashed with the Boers in a series of fierce encounters
at Langs Nek Schuinshoogte and Majauba (Hill of Doves)
The armistice was signed in March 1881. The
subsequent Pretoria Convention, signed in October the same year,
was never wholly acceptable to the Boers and sowed the seeds of
discontent that led to the Anglo-Boer War in 1899.
ANGLO-BOER WAR 1899-1902
With the discovery of gold in the Transvaal
(Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek) in 1886, the Boers, fearing an influx
of uitlanders (foreigners), amended the voting act. The foreigners
on the goldfields protested, and war between Britain and the ZAR
(supported by the Orange
Free State) broke out on 11 October 1899.
The northern triangle of Natal, which bordered
both Boer republics, was an especially vulnerable region. The
Boers occupied Newcastle on 15 October 1899 and five days later
the first major battle of the war took place at Talana, two kilometers
Britain entered the war promising to give the
Boojers a lesson, believing it would all be over by
Christmas. But as Kipling was to point out, it was the comparatively
small band of volunteers from the Zuid-Afrikaasche Republiek and
Orange Free State that were to give Queen Victorias proud
British army no end of a lesson.
The three-year conflict proved to be the longest, costliest, bloodiest
and most humiliating war Britain had fought since the Napoleonic
During the Anglo-Boer War: the Boers besieged
the British army in Ladysmith for 118 days, an event that dominated
world headlines: the combatants engaged at the Thukela Heights
in the biggest battle fought by Britain in Africa until World
War II; the Boers confounded British strategists by discarding
conventional warfare and opting for guerrilla tactics, using relatively
small, highly mobile mounted commando units.
The tapestry of the conflict is rich with the
names of men who went to war in South Africa Winston Churchill,
Mohandas Gandhi, Jan Smuts, Robert Baden-Powell, Louis Botha,
Deneys Reitz, Redvers Buller, Lord Kitchener, Lord Roberts, Piet
Joubert and Christiaan de Wet; while battle honours reflect bloody
conflicts and famous engagements: Talana, Elandslaagte, Seige
of Ladysmith, the Armoured Train Incident, Colenso, Thukela Heights,
Spionkop and Vaalkrans.
BHAMBATHA REBELLION 1906
The Bhambatha Rebellion, a defiance against
colonial rule, is described by many as the beginning of the armed
struggle by black South Africans.
Bhambatha, a chief of the Zondi tribe, led a
protest against the imposition by the Colonial Government of a
poll tax of one pound on all male residents over the age of 18.
After four policemen were killed at Ambush Rock, colonial forces
were called in. By then many of the tribal communities in the
colony were in open rebellion against the poll tax, and Bhambatha
had moved to the densely forested Nkandla area, from where he
Despite artillery shelling of the forest and
sweeping searches by the colonial troops, the rebels remained
secure. However, on 9 June 1906, Col Duncan McKenzie, commander
of the colonial forces, received word that Bhambatha and his men
were entering the Nkandla forest via the Mome Gorge. The next
day the rebels were engaged, with 575 killed to the loss of three
of the colonial force.
Officially, Bhambathas body was located
on the banks of the Mome stream, decapitated and the head taken
to Nkandla for identification, after which it was returned to
the forest and buried with the body. However, elders of the Zondi
community maintain that Bhambatha escaped the troopers and fled
to Mozambique. The battle in the Mome Gorge
broke the back of the rebellion, and although several influential
amakhosi led sporadic displays of resistance, they were unable
to match the firepower of the colonial forces and by mid-July
the rebellion had ended.